The minute Ian McShane was announced to star as the leader of the old deities in Starz's upcoming adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantastical masterpiece #AmericanGods, our hype rating soared exponentially. Who couldn't picture the outspoken, British thespian ruling the godly roost, marching around America on a quest for worship? Not us, that's for sure! But things could have been quite different should the original casting have gone to plan.
Talking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, McShane chatted about the process of becoming Mr. Wednesday (a.k.a. Odin, a.k.a. the All-Father, a.k.a. Grim, a.k.a. about 20 other names), and as it turns out, he was originally pegged to play a totally different part. Showrunner Michael Green had asked him to portray Czernobog, the Slavic God of darkness:
"This came out of the blue last year. [Co-creator] Michael Green, who I’d worked with before on [an NBC] show called Kings, had offered me a part, but it wasn’t Mr. Wednesday; it was a character called Czernobog, which is played much better than I would ever have done it, and brilliantly, by Peter Stormare. Anyway, the thing is I read it and I felt, 'This is a fascinating script.' And I said, 'Well, what about this guy Mr. Wednesday?' I’m lucky. I think they had it out to somebody else, I don’t know who, and somebody said no to it. Who knows? Sometimes parts have got your name on it. And this one seemed to."
Well, whoever — and we want to know who! — turned it down did viewers a great service, for I'm willing to bet that this will be the performance of McShane's career (sorry, Deadwood fans). And really, it's about time the 74-year-old actor played a God, which of course he agrees with:
" Yeah, it’s about time. But there’s only one way to play a god. Wednesday is a god who actually behaves like a normal human being, which is what I think gods should be. Wednesday is just unendingly optimistic and funny and charming and capricious and as willful as any of the other gods that he supposedly despises. But you’ll have a better time with Wednesday. Because the glass is always half-full with Wednesday."
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Being an immigrant himself — McShane was born in Lancashire, England and currently resides in Venice Beach, CA — he can relate to the huge theme of immigration that runs through the spine of Gaiman's novel. For him, the most lingering message is that no matter the new life you've made for yourself, you shouldn't — to borrow a cliche — forget where you come from:
"He talks about coming to America, the immigrant story. I mean, this is Gaiman’s big theme, I think, is that they bring their gods with them. The bad sort of entities, you know, the demons and the bad guys, were afraid to cross the ocean. But the immigrants weren’t because they had optimism and hope, and they brought that with them. And we’ve forgotten a lot about that now. We are slavishly attuned to our iPhones and our iPads and all our technological goodies. I don’t think Gaiman’s saying you ignore all that, but just don’t forget the past, forget what brought you to this point."
Before adding his own two-cents on what makes America the chosen place for many seeking out a new start:
"I think, first of all, immigrants tend to go west, they don’t go east. To go to America, you head west. Because this country, for all its glaring, obvious faults, is an amazing place to be. It’s free in the best sense of the word. I mean, the fact that you can have the arguments about [politics], although they’re getting a little silly at the moment, it’s the freest country in the world. Wednesday professes it. When Shadow says, "So you’ve been other places," Wednesday says, "No. Just this country. I just travel around here because it’s the freest place to be."
Do you think McShane would've made a good Czernobog?
(Source: Philadelphia Inquirer)